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Rockhounding for Fun and Pleasure

Updated on September 9, 2012

Rockhounding makes a great excuse to mess around outdoors. But, it’s much more than that. Basically, many rockhounds are amateur geologists enjoying a captivating hobby, although there are full-fledged geologists doing it as well. Actually, it’s an activity comprising a whole complex of hobbies having endless challenges. It’s not necessary to be a geologist to enjoy rockhounding, although it’s recommended to have a basic understanding of rocks and minerals.

Some would say rockhounding is collecting rocks and minerals for recreational enjoyment. then store some of them in their head. Not so! Look at a few of the things the hobby offers. One can:

· Specialize in volcanic rocks or meteorites

· Collect and study fossils or crystals

· Collect specimens of specific minerals to analyze

· Learn suiseki, the Japanese art of selecting natural stones.

· Prospect for gold

· Start another hobby such as stone carving

· Attend rock swap meets mineral shows and visit digging sites and various mines

· Start another rock collecting specialty in fulgurites, stones formed when lightning strikes the ground.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every location has different geological formations and a true rockhound will want to get a complete picture of what underlies a locality. They will gather as many bits of data as possible…crystal habits, foliation, mineral abundances, strike and dip directions. They will also want to identify and count all the microfossils for study under a microscope.

As you can see, this is a hobby encompassing countless options. Beginners will learn much about mineralogy and geology simply by collecting location information as well as in the identification and classifying of specimens and preparation for display.

This hobby evolved from early prospectors searching for valuable minerals, metals and gemstones for commercial use. But more recently people are being drawn to it for recreational purposes and the beauty rocks and minerals provide. It’s also good exercise.

Getting started is fairly easy and can begin in ones’ own back yard. There are many clubs, gem and mineral shows and bookstores or libraries where people can learn what they need to know. The Internet can also be a useful tool.

The rock hammer is the basic tool a rockhound will need. This small tool has a pick on one end, and a flat hammer on the other. The hammer end is for breaking rocks, and the pick end is used for prying and digging into crevasses. Avoid striking bare rock with the pick end as it will dull quickly.

However, before embarking on any rockhound activity read up on local laws. Many states regulate the collection of some rocks and minerals, on some public lands and rock and mineral collecting is prohibited in most national parks. Often restrictions are placed on how much rock can be taken in places like Forest Service, State and Tribal lands. Remember to get permission if prospecting on private property. A field guide and magnifying glass to identify rocks and minerals is also recommended. Look for one small and easy to carry.

Notwithstanding these rules and regulations, there are basic rules of courtesy rockhounds should follow.

For example:

· Never take all specimens from a site. Leave some for other rockhounds. Besides, taking all is destroying a bit of nature.

· Never damage any property, such as fences.

· Always carry your trash out with you.

· If you create a large hole removing a specimen, fill it back in. They can cause injury to the animals and livestock.

If planning on rockhounding in a single state find a guidebook for that state. These guides will have insider information and maps on where best specimens can be found and types of rocks found in specific locations. One containing ample illustrations can be indispensable in rock and mineral identification.

It would be impossible to mention all locations where collecting is permitted, but some prime areas would be where extensive quarrying, mining, mine exploration operations and road development has been done. These operations have already bared fossil and mineral deposits.

Once getting started many rockhounds become interested in lapidary. Lapidary is cutting, polishing and mounting gemstones or minerals. For this, rock saws and polishers are needed. A good microscope for studying and photographing specimens is also advisable. Many crystals are found in small samples.

Rockhounding can be loads of fun but to get to some sites, hiking may be required. These areas are many times remote. Therefore, always travel in a group, bring plenty of drinking water and be sure to let someone know your plans.

Additionally, it is advisable to use safety goggles when striking rock. Flying stone chips can cause serious eye damage. Another precaution is to be aware dust from chipping and cutting rock can be hazardous to the lungs, so use a mask or respirator if necessary.

All rockhounds should carry other safety equipment as well. Steel toe safety boots, a hard hat, an orange construction safety vest, and a comprehensive first aid kit are advisable. In fact, these items are mandatory in some organizations such as the Central Canadian Federation of Mineralogical Societies (CCFMS.).

Newbie’s to the rockhounding game may have no idea t how to get going or what to look for and where to find it. The CCFMS website is a good place to start. Check out the hobby news and online resources page at: However, the best way to learn is to meet and other "rockhounds.” You can meet them by joining one of the clubs listed on the CCFMS website.


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    • flash167 profile image

      Marty Andersen 5 years ago from Salina, Utah

      Thank you for covering a topic that is dear to my heart. I actually started as a lapidary and silversmith and of course that lead me to have a strong desire to collect my own material.

      Living in Southern Utah still has some wonderful rockhounding opportunities although many of the best known areas are now closed to collecting due to areas being closed by the Clinton administration.

      Here in the St. George area we have the "Glitter Pits", which is a very large deposit of Selenite that is just across the border in Arizona and just to the north of us you can find some fantastic blood agate near Cedar Citty, Utah as well as Brian Head Agate near the ski resort town of Brian Head. I've been fortunate to get a large stash of many wonderful gemstones from Utah including Variscite, Indian Blanket Jasper, many varieties of Agate and Jasper. I must admit however the bulk of my collection comes from rock shop "rock hounding".

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image

      PETER LUMETTA 6 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      I'm an old rock licker from way back check my hubs.